After going after trans children and people seeking abortions, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has set his sights on a new target: potential death row inmates.
While speaking to the Florida Sheriff’s Association about what he deems the “slow wheels of justice” last week—as Vox pointed out—DeSantis spoke of his frustration with requiring unanimous jury recommendations before handing down death sentences. And he appears to want to make it easier.
“Maybe eight out of twelve have to agree? Or something. But we can’t be in a situation where one person can just derail this,” DeSantis said on Jan. 23, referring to death penalty verdicts left unachieved because of a so-called “rogue” juror.
Since 2016, the state of Florida has required that every member of a jury agree on a death sentence, thanks to several Supreme Court cases. But the debate around Florida’s death penalty sentencing requirements was reignited after three jurors voted against executing the Parkland shooter, who killed 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day in 2018.
“And so I think you had an 11 to one decision, where the 11 said he should get capital punishment. One said no,” DeSantis wrongly said about the Parkland shooter’s jury.
Out of 17 states where the death penalty is legal, Alabama is currently the only state that doesn’t require unanimity and allows a 10-2 jury vote to recommend execution. And an analysis done by the Death Penalty Information Center found that non-unanimous jury sentencing in death penalty cases increases the risk of wrongful convictions.
On top of the potential problems, more and more states have abolished the death penalty over the last decade, largely because the shortage of lethal injection drugs has led to several botched executions with new or untested cocktails.
A few days after suggesting the country move away from unanimous juries, DeSantis spoke to the Miami Police Benevolent Association, where he not only doubled down on that idea, but also mentioned wanting to expand the death penalty to offenders who rape children. (The death penalty in the U.S. is used exclusively for murder charges.)
Although DeSantis currently only has power in Florida, it’s been widely reported that he’s preparing to run for president in 2024. And with the current conservative tilt to the Supreme Court, he seems all too aware of the prime opportunity to change the rules.
“We do not believe the Supreme Court, in its current iteration, would uphold it,” DeSantis said, referring to a Supreme Court decision that explicitly forbade expanding the death penalty to a non-homicide crime.
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